Jasprit Bumrah usually smiles a lot on the field. He smiles when catches are dropped. He smiles when someone misfields off his bowling. He smiles when the batsman survives a close chance. He smiles, goes back to the top of his bowling mark, and bowls. The drama is for the ball, the pacer rarely acts out.
But something has changed on this England tour. It seems to have rekindled the anger he said that has always been a part of him. He seems edgy, on the prowl, visibly hungrier. Bumrah wants to dominate the opposition more than he usually does and he’s letting it show. His mannerisms have a distinctly aggressive feel to them and he’s taking no prisoners.
On a clear day in London with the day five pitch at The Oval still good for batting, the fast bowler produced the kind of spell you have to see to believe. It probably won’t make its way into the history books like Chandra’s 6-38 or Ishant’s 7-74 for the number of wickets but it had an ethereal quality to it that took the pitch, and perhaps even the batsmen, out of the equation.
At lunch on the final day, the match was delicately poised. England had made their way to 131/2. Hameed was batting on a very nervous 62 and he had skipper Joe Root for company on 8. India had plugged away in the morning session and got two wickets too but with the pitch playing as it was, a draw seemed like it would be a fair result.
But Bumrah obviously had different ideas. He went up to Virat Kohli and asked for the ball. It is the kind of thing skippers love the most: their best bowler putting his hand up and saying ‘I’ll do the job.’
“We believed as a team that we could get all 10 wickets,” Kohli said after the match. “And Bumrah gave 27 runs off 22 overs on this kind of pitch... a huge effort. When it started reversing he just said ‘give me the ball’.”
The 27-year-old Bumrah said later: “It’s very important to create pressure. We thought it was an important phase, so I went up to him (Kohli) and said I thought we should start well and try to create pressure. We are very happy to get this result, a lot of effort went into this win.”
Jadeja started the second session and then Bumrah came on from the other end. His bowling figures at that point read: 11-5-14-0. He had been very tight but it was also England not looking to take any risks against India’s premier fast bowler.
But now with the ball reversing, he had a different plan in mind. So far in the series, he had stuck to a good length and the occasional short balls. The pitches had seemed good for swing bowling, so he logically went looking for it. Now though, he went for the jugular.
We have seen him use the short ball very effectively. He almost uses it as a setup delivery. Bowl the short ball, get the batsman thinking, then throw in a yorker or another short ball or the wide delivery. Every ball has meaning.
In his first over after lunch, there was a hint of reverse. Not Wasim Akram or Waqar Younis levels but enough. It prompted him to go still fuller. Go full, get it to reverse late… just like the masters.
England played out his first two overs but you could feel it in the air. Bumrah was finding his finest rhythm. It is batsman vs bowler, bat vs ball at its most primal.
Then, it happened. Bumrah happened. Pope, who had scored a fine fifty in the first innings, was found wanting. The stumps had been attacked and the batsman couldn’t handle the heat. It was too quick, the natural angle into the right-hander had him playing down the wrong line and then, it nipped sharply. The batsman could only stare down the wicket before reluctantly beginning the walk back to the dressing room. Shattered, just like the stumps.
It was Bumrah’s 100th Test wicket. It had taken him just 24 Tests to get the milestone, the fastest Indian pacer (in terms of matches) to reach the mark. Faster than Kapil Dev, who had taken 25 matches to do the same.
But if Pope thought he had it bad, he was wrong. Bairstow had it much worse.
In the very next over, Bumrah struck again. This time, the length was even fuller. It reversed at the last possible moment and hit the base of leg stump. Perfection, just when India needed it. The batsman heard the death rattle, briefly turned back to look at the stumps. He knew the answer but he wanted to be sure; sure that he had been made to look like an absolute novice by one of the best fast bowlers of this generation.
England and Root survived the remaining two overs in the spell, but just about. They were both maiden overs as the batsman looked to do nothing more than keep the ball out. Root dug out another couple of yorkers — lesser batsmen might have perished — but in his heart of hearts, he must have known then that his side was done.
According to CricViz, Bumrah’s average speed during the spell was 142 km/h and he got 1.3 degrees of swing/reverse swing. The best just know how to raise their game when they need to.
“It was a brilliant spell from Bumrah after lunch that bust the game open,” said Root to BBC Test Match Special immediately after the game. Indeed, so.
Bumrah’s spell after lunch
12th over: . 1 . 1 . 2b
13th over: 1 . . . . 2
14th over: . . 1 . W .
15th over: . . W . . .
16th over: . . . . . .
17th over: . . . . . .
Overall spell: 6-3-6-2
At the other end, Jadeja had done his bit too. When Bumrah’s spell ended after the 71st over, England were 149/6 after 71 overs and staring down the barrel of defeat. His spell had cast a spell on the hosts, one that took them to their destruction.
It seemed like a once-in-generation spell but Bumrah’s been producing them so often that it has become an almost regular occurrence. That is his genius and India’s good luck.
Though, it wasn’t all luck. When Shardul Thakur was asked before play whether there will be reverse swing, his answer showed that India had a plan. “Yes, hope so, we will try to get Jadeja to land the rough side into ‘rough’ patches and hopefully that will scuff up one side.”
And when the best-laid plans all came together, India had another away Test win to cherish. Bumrah’s final figures read 2/27 but they just go to prove that sporting greatness is never only about the numbers.
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